In previous years, Notting Hill Carnival would have taken place on the final weekend of August, a unique and exciting flavour of British culture. The annual event is one of the largest street parties in the world. It attracts over a million people to London (Britain’s capital) every year. In this blog, you can learn more and discover the wonders of the carnival through the eyes (and brand new secret diary entries) of our Modern doll collection: Bex, Maya, Nisha and Max.
The carnival is a celebration of black and Caribbean British culture. It began as a response to racial attacks in Notting Hill in the late 1950s. Today the carnival represents & advocates for the importance of multiculturalism in London.
Through its Caribbean roots, the event is known for its colourful clothing, delicious food and, most importantly, the music.
The Notting Hill carnival is best known for the parade, filled with colourful costumes that originated in style from Caribbean islands like Trinidad and Tobago. The procession is made up of dancers, singers and musicians dressed in bejewelled costumes and multicoloured feathers. Wings made from peacocks and colourful headdresses are commonplace.
Crowds draw to the streets of Notting Hill, following the floats and performers from Chepstow to Ladbroke Grove.
‘Despite getting to Chepstow Road at 9 am sharp, there were so many people it was hard to see the dancers that were first through the carnival route. All I could see were colourful feathers that towered above the crowds. Every colour in the rainbow was included, and the headdresses swayed from side to side with the dancers below.
I love the costumes; they are so vibrant. My favourite part is that no two are the same. I think that’s the point.
I wish I could wear one, but they’re only for grown-ups in the parade. If I could, I would choose a costume with blue and green feathers and pink gemstones. I would have giant wings like a big blue bird and dance all the way through the carnival.’
Following its basis in British - Caribbean culture, food is a massive part of the carnival. The smell of jerk, barbeque and chicken is the parade’s signature scent, and people come from all over London to try the delicious array of foods.
Other popular dishes include Roti (flatbread) in Trinidadian style or colourful Pepper Pots from Guyana.
On average, the carnival includes over three hundred unique food vendors a year, a large proportion inspired by the Caribbean roots of the festival.
‘Once the parade had gone past us, I knew exactly what I wanted to try next. The food.
I’d heard so many good things, and it smelt so delicious I wanted to taste everything.
Maya, Nisha, Bex, our parents, and I walked down the parade route, following the colourful dancers and our noses.
We got to this little square that was completely full of food stalls, I couldn’t believe how many options there were!
Luckily, before making up my mind, I was allowed to sample lots of the food, and each mouthful was a brand new flavour. I even tried a little spoonful of a special hot sauce made with a little dash of the ‘Trinidad Scorpian Pepper’. The sauce made me sneeze, and my eyes water, but the man in the stall said it was great for my chest. I don’t see how a burning tongue can be good for that.
My favourite thing was the jerk chicken, rice and plantain. The chicken is smokey and crispy on the outside. It’s cooked on these giant barbecues, and you can smell it all around Notting Hill. I also loved the sweet plantain, which is like a banana, but you cook it. It seemed strange to me but was so delicious I forgot to question it.’
The carnival is centred on singing and playing music. Bands, performers and orchestras come from all over the world to perform.
Although the music includes a massive range of instruments, the star of the show is the steel drum. Originating from Trinidad and Tobago, these drums made a gong-like clang. Their unique ringing beat is the staple sound of the parade. Some orchestras have hundreds of people, and there are as many as 50,000 performers in total who participate in the carnival. The sound and atmosphere created by the musicians are key parts of the event. Taking part is a central value of the carnival. People join the parade celebrations, dancing in the crowd across Notting Hill to the live music.
A second central part of the music culture is also the many sound systems. In addition to the performers and parade, these giant speakers play music from DJs and local musicians. The sound is designed to emphasise a songs baseline, meaning you can ‘feel’ the music in the ground. The carnival is therefore famed for spreading music through the streets of London. Genres range from Reggae to Blues to Hip Hop, so there’s something for everyone.
‘I knew exactly why I wanted us all to go to the carnival. The music.
We are starting our own band, and I want to perform in the parade one day. When we finally got to the front and could see everyone going past, I was amazed by the sheer number of musicians in one place, all playing in time with one another.
My favourite band was a giant orchestra called ‘Mangrove Steelband’. They’re one of the most famous groups in the whole parade. They play this amazing instrument called the ‘steel drum’. It looks so much cooler than my drum set at home, and the performers can carry them around their necks too! I can’t imagine trying to hold my drum set for hours whilst thousands and thousands of people looked on.
Maybe in a few years, I can play with the Mangroves, or our band can include some steel drums. I can’t wait to ask for lessons for my birthday, it’s coming up soon!’
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